Saturday, September 16, 2023

Carnival Mardi Gras Cruise Review - September 16, 2023



Just The Facts:

Ship:  Mardi Gras, first of Carnivals Excel class @182,000 gross tons. 5282+ capacity.

Ports: Port Canaveral - Cozumel, Mexico - Costa Maya, Mexico - Mahogany Bay, Isla Roatan, Honduras
This is a 7-day Western Caribbean cruise. It's my 8th cruise on the Mardi Gras, my 111th Carnival cruise, and my 202nd cruise overall. I am sailing as a solo using cruise credits from the canceled Carnival Jubilee inaugural so not a planned cruise but a cruise of opportunity.

Day One -- Saturday -- September 16th, 2023 -- Port Canaveral Embarkation  

I left the Florida Villa at about 9:30 a.m. for the drive to Port Canaveral and my 1:00-1:30 p.m. check-in time. I arrived at Park-N-Cruise just after noon. A very efficient parking company I have used for years now and soon I was on my way to the port terminal. I arrived at the pier at about 12:30 and went through port security and checked in fairly quickly. I was able to drop my roll-on bag in the cabin by 1:00 p.m. I have an interior cabin located on deck five at the aft elevator/stairwell. It is very comfortable, especially for a solo. The cabin steward, Aris, fixed me up with ice for my cooler and we set a cleaning schedule. The cabin has a queen bed, Double wardrobes, a Large screen Television, a Counter & mirror with a Heavy ottoman seat, a Small refrigerator, Shelving and drawers, and a small but adequate bathroom with a solid glass door shower. I went to my Muster Station on deck 7, then up to the Lido Marketplace on deck 16 for some Roast Beef. I ate very light as I was on a Game-Day schedule with kickoff at 3:30 then went to Big Chicken for my primary meal at about 3:00 pm. A good time to go as it wasn’t too busy. I had my MDE (regular chicken sandwich with Pickles & Shaq sauce) and a Tenders & Fries with dipping sauces…it was very good. I got back to the cabin at about 3:35 just in time for kickoff. I ordered the premium WiFi package and the reception in my interior was very good. I purposely selected a cabin along the elevator shaft with that in mind. Very happy with the Oklahoma vs, Tulsa game too, a 66-17 blowout for the Sooners. At sundown, I went up to the Lido Marketplace and had a nice bowl of mixed fruit on the outer deck. It was quite nice (photo above). I was looking for fruit to take for smacks but none to be found, I hope that’s not a cut-back. I didn’t go out for any shows or bars but returned to the cabin to watch the evening football games. One advantage of being an experienced cruiser is that you don’t have to do any ship activities if that’s your choice. I soon fell asleep to the rocking of the ship.

Day Two -- Sunday --  September 17th, 2023 -- Port Canaveral Embarkation 
Slightly rocky seas overnight and I slept very well in my interior cabin. I woke early, reviewed scores of late NCAA football games, then went up to Lido deck and my favorite breakfast on a Carnival ship: The Blue Iguana. I had one Tortilla with two easy-fried eggs, I added Cheese, Pico de gallo, and Salsa. I had an Arepa and Watermelon on the side. It was fantastic. I did a walkabout on Lido then down to deck 6 to get back to the aft staircase. Guests were exploring the ship and the Lido deck was already full. Mid-morning I went up to deck 6 when Aris came to clean the cabin… guests were busy with Trivia and a large crowd waiting for the Seaday Brunch, they will learn to use the HUB to make reservations. I had time to update this blog and finalize getting the cabin squared away…I feel like I’m ready to cruise. At about 1:00 pm I went to the Summer Landing on deck 8 aft. They have most of the NFL games on various Televisions in the area. I found the Tampa Bay Buccaneers TV and found a decent seat. I did the bucket of beers special as it included Pilsner Urquel my favorite. I enjoyed several during the game and also had a BBQ Plate before they closed at 2:30. It was fun watching with a group and the Bucs and my favorite (OU grad and Heisman Trophy winner) Baker Mayfield did well. Go Bucs! I retired to the cabin to relax then went up to the Lido Marketplace at sundown for a light dinner. The beef was excellent. I ran into an old friend former Alchemy Bartender Milos who is now the Bar Manager on board. I haven’t done a bar yet but will soon. I did catch the end of the Cowboys game too before retiring for the evening. It was a fun sea day on the Mardi Gras.

Day Two -- Monday --  September 18th, 2023 -- Cozumel, Mexico 
Smooth seas overnight and I slept well. I wasn’t up until almost 9:00ish as we approached Cozumel. We were docked before our scheduled 10:00 am arrival and the Breeze is the only other Carnival ship at Puerto Maya…I do miss the Carnival Breeze out of Galveston. It’s a beautiful day in Cozumel so many guests will love a beach day. I left the ship at about 10:40 and it was quite busy. I got a Taxi outside the port and went into San Miguel. A quick stop at the church then Martin opened Antonios. It was 10:00 local time. After a much-needed haircut, I went down to Woody’s Bar and Grill my Cozumel hangout. It was slower than usual and I had my favorite table. I started with a proper Mexican Coca-Cola as usual, I brought my own insulated mug that helps with the ice situation. I saw David, my favorite bartender, and Ximena one of the new owners. I soon ordered my Guacamole, Pico de Gallo, and chips as I skipped breakfast this morning. Very good guacamole today…and becoming harder to find in the USA. I enjoyed several drinks including a Bohemia Clara, and then ordered a Shrimp Quesadilla dinner plate, it was great. We had a brief rain shower that dropped the humidity too. My guayabera shirt was feeling a little tight so I purchased a new one from the DW’s favorite vendor in the Craft Area across from Woody's. A good day in San Miguel all around: a great bar, Live Music!, fast internet, a haircut, a new guayabera shirt, and seeing some old friends. I took the taxi back to Puerto Maya arriving before our 5:30 back on board time. After some relaxing cabin time, I went to dinner at the Bonsai Teppanyaki at 7:15 pm, it was a chance last minute booking. It was very good, my main entree items were a Lobster and filet Mignon combination. The appetizers, fried rice, vegetables, and dessert samples (6) were very good. Of course, the show is unique and enjoyable too (photo). IMHO it’s a better meal and value than the premium seafood and steakhouse venues. The meal and gratuity rounded up comes to $50. After dinner, I went to the Brass Magnolia to listen to my favorite jazz band from previous Mardi Gras cruises: Washboard Joe. They were excellent. I then retired to the cabin and I was soon asleep. It was a very productive day in Cozumel and on the Mardi Gras.
Day Four -- Tuesday --  September 19, 2023 -- Costa Maya, Mexico   
Smooth seas overnight and I slept well. We were docked well before our 9:00 am arrival time and it's a beautiful sunny day in Roatan. I had a very lazy morning relaxing on the deck 8 recliners on the shady side of the ship facing the Mahahual lighthouse. The water is a very beautiful Caribbean blue today as the weather has been fair here of late. Very nice for guests on a beach day. I had lunch on the aft Lido deck at Big Chicken. Always good. I went to the Serenity Deck on 18 forward, lot of guests staying on board, but I got a nice table for my laptop. The pool was refreshing and the view was nice. I retired to the cabin and actually took a nap, easier in an interior. I went for dinner in Cucina del Capitano at about 7:15, I was able to make a reservation very easily. It felt odd when I walked in, other than the terrible table that tried to place me at the entry door, it finally dawned on me: No Tablecloths. The Cucina had been the last hold-out for tablecloths on Carnival and the red and white checked tables were so attractive and Italian. Alas, no more. I ordered: Arancini, Nonna’s Meatball, Minestrone Soup, Spaghetti Carbonara, and Chicken Parmesan (no dessert). It was good, but not as good as I remember. A bit dry and I asked for extra tomato sauce. After dinner, I went to the Brass Magnolia to hear two jazz sets from Washboard Joe. Also a nice Cosmopolitan as an after-dinner cocktail. I then retired. It was a very relaxing day on board the Mardi Gras. 

Day Five -- Wednesday --  September 20, 2023 -- Mahogony Bay,  Roatan Island, Honduras 
Smooth seas overnight and I slept well. I woke at about 8:00 am and we were already docked at Mahogany Bay. The weather is beautiful but it will be hot today and I am staying on the ship. I’ve been everywhere on the island and done everything there is to do as well. The Mahogany Bay Port facilities are nice and actually perfect for the beginning cruisers, but not very interesting to me. I went up to the Blue Iguana before it closed at 10:30 a.m. for my favorite breakfast. I spent several hours in the Summer Landing area lounging and watching rugby on the big-screen Television while working on my laptop. I did a walkabout on the ship and there are a lot of guests who remain on board. Most were seniors such as myself or guests who had been to Roatan previously and used the many options on board the ship with fewer people on board. The Bolt rollercoaster was busy today. At about 4:20ish, I went to Guy’s Burgers for a standard hamburger (photo), it was good, but I could do better. They won’t customize enough to make a proper onion-fried hamburger, but I had them prepare two fresh hot meat patties & had them place the fresh shredded onions between the meats then smash it all on a single bun. The heat then does its magic, it was great. I had a good outside shaded table with a view of the beach too so this was a nice early dinner for this evening. We were late sailing away due to two missing guests, then once we were finally away the Captain made a ship-wide announcement…that’s never good. It seems we were having propulsion problems and would have to come to a complete stop. Doesn’t happen often and in just over an hour the Captain announced an all-clear…so we were off again. Nice, I want to be home on Saturday in time for a noon kickoff. Just a relaxing evening, I did go by Pixels and picked up the Diamond gift, it was a fanny pack and ship pin. I also got my $25 free-play casino chips, but didn’t use them. I had movie time in the cabin before retiring. It was another relaxing day on the Mardi Gras.

Day Six -- Thursday --  September 21st, 2022 -- Fun Day at Sea   
Smooth seas overnight and I slept well. I woke early and updated this blog and had some travel business on recent bookings so it was internet time this morning. I had a restful morning then went to the Diamond Luncheon at noon in the Flamingo Dining Room. This was my first luncheon since they finally introduced the new menus a few months ago. I had a nice service team and a bar waiter. I ordered the Natchitoches Meat Pies (from the Bistro menu) as my appetizers, and two entrees: the Gilled Jumbo Shrimp and the Bacon-wrapped Filet Mignon (photo). For dessert the Fresh fruit and Pineapple Sorbet. It was all very good. The CD introduced the officers and my friend Milos is now the Beverage Manager. I spoke with Washboard Joe on my way back to the cabin, I asked about the ‘chicken’ and it’s not a part of the act this year…less comedy and more Jazz. That group is perfect for the Brass Magnolia. I had a long four-hour nap this afternoon which is a tradition following a successful (cocktails) Diamond Luncheon. This evening I again was able to make a dinner reservation with only a 10-minute wait at ChiBang for 7:15 pm. I had a nice table and could watch the sunset as well. I ordered all my favorites: Egg Drop Soup, Pork Belly, Simple Greens Salad, Hakka Noodles, Beef and Broccoli, Kung Pao Chicken (spicy), and Coconut Tea Tres Leches for dessert. It was all very nice, a good day for food on the Mardi Gras. I went by the Brass Magnolia for a while then retired to the cabin to update my blog, do some business online, and watch some NFL football. The WiFi has been excellent, with great reception for the game. It was a FUN lazy sea day on the Mardi Gras.

Day Seven -- Friday --  September 22, 2023 -- Fun Day at Sea 
Smooth seas overnight and I slept well. I had online business early then made a reservation for Sea Day Brunch in the MDR at about 10:15 am. Again a very short wait until I received a table assignment, it was aft facing two-top table…perfect. I ordered my almost complementary Bloody Mary and a nice hearty breakfast. Eggs Benedict, Two fried eggs easy, Hash Browns, Pork Sausage, Pork Bacon, French Toast, and Milk. It was very good and very filling. I then finished my online project and did some debarkation planning. I had an easy afternoon doing a walkabout until the Diamond/Platinum Reunion party at 4:30 p.m. in the Theater. I got my Diet Pepsi at the door when entering and sat low to hear the solo guitarist that I had only seen in passing on deck 6 near the Fortune Teller Bar small stage. He was good. My first time seeing the Cruise Director since I haven’t gone to any shows, he too was good. As it turned out I was the high cruiser…the good thing about it was that Captain Alessandro met me as I came up the stage, we became friends years ago when he was the Captain of the Triumph. I had his Texas farewell party photo of him in his cowboy hat on my phone and he had to show it to the staff. It was nice. I don’t always go to this event, but glad that I did. I had my $25 Fun Play chips in my pocket so stopped at the casino to play roulette. I did fair, I walked away with $60 in real chips. For dinner tonight I went to the Pig & Anchor located in Summer Landing deck 8 aft. The Backyard Band had just started their first set when I was seated…great view. I enjoyed them and the female lead, she was excellent…she did Brenda Lee, Beatles, Classic rock, and more. My dinner was perhaps the best meal of the cruise. I had a half rack of St. Louis Ribs, Brisket, Pulled Park, Slaw, Onion strips, a wide variety of BBQ sauces, and Banana pie for dessert. I had taken a Pilsner Urquell I had left over from the football night bucket too. All is well. I went to the Brass Magnolia to hear one set by Washboard Joe and have a dessert cocktail New Orleans style with my Diamond voucher before retiring.  It was a great final sea day on the Mardi Gras.

Debarkation -- Saturday -- September 23rd, 2023 -- Port Canaveral, Florida 

Smooth seas overnight as we sailed along the coast of Florida and I slept fair. I was up by 5:30 a.m. and I finished my packing process. The Diamond guests meeting was at 7:15 a.m. at the Center Stage space but I went early and was glad I did as they were leaving when I arrived at about 6:45 a.m. So I never stopped leaving the cabin until I reached the shuttle bus spot at 7:00 a.m. Facial recognition really gets everyone through security quickly. I was leaving the Park-n-Cruise lot by 7:40 a.m. Home at the Villa in Meadow Oaks before 10:00 a.m. Amazing how smooth debarkation was today.



Diamond/Platinum Reunion

Good Fast Food: Big Chicken, Guy’s Burgers

Bonsai Teppanyaki

Instrumental Grooves with Washboard Joe 

Pig & Anchor BBQ

Diamond Luncheon


Sunday, June 11, 2023

Allure of the Seas - June 11, 2023


Allure of the Seas  -  June 11, 2023
Just the Facts
Ship:  Allure of the Seas,  A Royal Caribbean Oasis class ship launched in 2010 @ 225,200 tons. Largest at sea at that time.
Ports: Galveston, Texas - Isla Roatan, Honduras - Costa Maya, Mexico - Cozumel, Mexico

This is a make-up group cruise for my senior high school class at DCHS...a planned 52nd class reunion cruise cancelled due to Covid-19.  It will be great to see fellow high school classmates most from Oklahoma.  I am sailing as a solo.  This is my first cruise on the Allure, my 35th Royal Caribbean cruise, and my 201st total cruise overall.   

Day One--Sunday—Embarkation 

I woke very early (3:45 am) to finish packing and head to the Tampa Airport for my 6:30 am flight on Southwest Airlines. I have sailed from Galveston well over 100 times but this is my very first time to fly there so a completely new experience. The two-hour direct flight arrived at Houston Hobby at about 7:50 am. The port shuttle meeting area was in the baggage claim area so very easy. I was the third person to check in. The first bus wasn’t until 10:00ish so I had time to get a full breakfast in the terminal. Nice to have Salsa Verde with my eggs again. The bus left as scheduled and we arrived at the new Royal Caribbean cruise terminal at about 11:00 am. We were dropped right in front of the Terminal. The new terminal design allows for self-drop off of luggage as your first process on arrival…perfect for a primarily ‘drive-to’ port. Since I gave both of my bags to a porter in the bus area I proceeded directly into the huge arrival area. They have designed this for large crowds and use mobile check-in so no fixed counter area…they can use as many personnel as needed. So very different as you actually check in first…then you go through Security. Once through security one final ID check using facial recognition and you can board the ship. I was on board by 11:45 am entering the huge Promenade on deck five. Very pleased with the embarkation process. Cabins don’t open until 1:00 pm so I did a walk-about on the way to the Windjammer buffet. This is a huge ship, but having sailed the Harmony OTS I was prepared. My lunch was very good, I had two nice German pork schnitzels and mashed potatoes, two of my favorites on RCL buffets. The watermelon was very nice too. I ran into my first classmates in the Solarium area. BTW—a good alternative to the very crowded Windjammer for a nice meal option although limited serving times. I went to my cabin on deck 12 and dropped my backpack then went on a walkabout checking in at my Muster Station E-3 back on deck 5. I found a large group of classmates around the corner in Boleros…very nice. They were in various stages of arrival, planning, and exploring. It was great seeing them. I did another walkabout stopping at the Schooner Bar for a cocktail before returning to my cabin. I watched us sail away from my balcony, a little different from the new port terminal location. Although this was my home port for over twenty years it seems so different for me. I met my cabin steward I Wayan from Bali and set up a cleaning schedule for the week. At about 7:00 pm I went for an aperitif at Boleros and was joined by a few classmates. Most of our group is attending the production show Momma Mia this evening. As a group, we have 7:45 pm dining and three nice tables near the entry on deck four of the Main Dining Room (MDR). Tonight I ordered the Escargots a la Bourguignonne, Roasted Tomato Soup, the Spaghetti Bolognese entree, and Key Lime Pie for dessert. It was excellent and I enjoyed the Bread and the Tablecloth too. I then retired to the cabin…It was a great and long first day on the Allure of the Seas.

Day Two—Monday—at Sea 
Smooth seas overnight and a very restful night after such a busy day. I woke up early and updated this blog. Rest and relaxing are the order of the day so I didn’t leave the cabin until noon. When the DW and I sailed on the Harmony of the Seas we were never able to eat in the Bistro in the Solarium as they have very limited hours. Today I went straight away there for lunch. They offer a mini buffet and they had exactly what I wanted: Mashed Potatoes and Pork Cutlets. They offer roast beef, hamburger fixings, french fries, and fruit. A good option and no children. True to form they closed at about 1:10 pm while I was there. I went by the Schooner Bar for an Elderflower Martini at about 14:30 and saw some classmates so stayed for a visit. C&A had left a small fruit plate in the cabin when I returned. Balcony time the rest of the afternoon, The entire group was at Boleros at 19:00, which was nice. We also had a full house on all three of our tables in the MDR this evening. This is the first elegant night so a special menu as well. I ordered: the Escargots a la Bourguignonne, the Iceberg Wedge Salad, the Roasted Beef Tenderloin entree, and a Creme Brûlée for dessert. It was a very enjoyable meal. I retired to the cabin but then decided to go get some Coca-cola with my remaining drinks vouchers at the Schooner Bar. Some of my Snoozemates’ cruise friends were there so I stayed for some piano bar entertainment by Grace Rouch. It was fun and my Elderflower martinis were very good. Following two sets of music I finally retired to the cabin. It was a relaxing and fun sea day on the Allure.


Day Three—Tuesday—at Sea 

Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well. Another relaxing morning for me. I had a banana from my fruit bowl for breakfast so I was ready to go down to the Boardwalk and Johnny Rockets (photo left) when they opened at noon. I started with a large Diet Coke and a nice plate of Onion Rings as a starter. I had the Double meat burger with cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, and mayo. It was served with both onion rings and french fries. Although they offered Sundaes or Pie for dessert I order a Vanilla Malt. Everything was great. I did a short walkabout on the Boardwalk and the Deck 5 Promenade. The Guacamole making class at Sabor looked interesting. The open skating time looked appealing, but I didn’t bring any extra long pants so can not do it. I-Wayan had my cabin cleaned upon return so it was Balcony-Business-and Nap time the rest of the day. At about 17:00 I went down to deck 5 with a friend and had a couple of Pilsner Urquells in the Bow & Stern Pub. Then over to Boleros for a martini. It was Italian night in the MDR. Tonight I ordered the Arancini, a Green Salad, the Chicken Parisian entree, and the Pot de Cream for dessert. After dinner, I went to the Schooner Bar for one set at the Piano Bar before retiring to the cabin. It was another very nice sea day sailing on the Allure of the Seas. 
Day Four—Wednesday—Isla Roatan, Honduras 
Smooth seas overnight and I slept well. At about 8:00 we docked at Coxen Hole the original port for the island. A lot of changes including adding a second pier. Very different than when I was here on the very first scheduled cruise ship to call at Roatan. I’m staying on board to take advantage of the ship amenities and walk about with fewer guests on board. I went to the Windjammer for breakfast, the ham from the Carving Station was excellent and a biscuit as good as I have had on a cruise ship. I went up to the Solarium and one of the large hot tubs, the water jets are great for my tendonitis. From the height of the Allure, you can see across the airport mountain and the ships at Amber Cove. I also visited with friends before returning to the cabin. At about 13:00 I went down to the Park Cafe for both a Salad and one of their great Roast Beef Sandwiches. It was not busy at all with few guests on board. Time for a walkabout before returning to the cabin for movie time. I enjoyed watching Cleopatra even more having recently been in Egypt. C&A delivered some very nice Petit-fours…thanks. It was a warm but tolerable day for guests doing the great excursions on the island today. My favorites here in the past have been: West Bay/Tabyana Beach, West End, Anthony’s Cay, French Cay, and several Zipline parks. I watched sail way from the balcony then went to the Diamond Lounge and met friends at about 1730. It was my first time there on this cruise. I visited and enjoyed cocktails. I went to dinner in the MDR and ordered a large order of Coconut Shrimp and Caribbean Jerk Pork Chop. It was good. No dessert as I excused myself a bit early to get to the Studio for the Ice Games! Ice Show (photo above). It was very clever themed as a Monopoly with squares being locations on the ship…Boardwalk was obvious. The large skate team was very entertaining and talented. I enjoyed the show. Afterward, I met my classmates in Boleros for late cocktails. It was fun but I soon retired. It was a fun and full ‘stay on the ship’ day for me.
Day Five—Thursday--Cozumel, Mexico 
Smooth seas overnight and I again slept well. We were docked at the International Pier by 8:00 with guests getting off early. I had a Banana for breakfast this morning and did some work that needed secondary verifications and my iPhone does have service in Mexico. A good thing. I went off at about 9:15 and got a taxi outside the gate fairly easily ($8) and was at Woody’s Bar & Grill by 9:45. They allowed me to set up as usual while they opened. At about 10:30 I went down to Antonio’s to get my haircut ($8), Martin is the best. Woodys was open by the time I got back and I had a Diet Coke and my usual order of guacamole earlier than usual, but I didn’t have breakfast. Super fast WiFi. I was later joined by a friend and we enjoyed a few Cervezas. It was a very hot day and we decided to head back early to the ship. A refreshing shower revived me and I went to the Park Cafe for a sandwich and salad.
We were docked next to the Voyager of the Seas and once they sailed it opened up the view and a nice breeze out on the balcony. A light shower began so the balcony time was very nice until sailing away at about 18:00. I had an aperitif at the Champagne Bar with friends before going to the MDR for our dinner. Tonight's theme was Taste of Mexico and I ordered: the Escargots, Shrimp Cocktail, Roasted Poblano Pepper Soup, the Carne Asada entree, and two desserts: Carmel Flan, & Tres Leches cake. It was a lot but portions are smaller and all was very good. I have reservations for the Aqua Show this evening, but they were canceled…something about the water, I could not hear the announcements as it was over the noise of dinner. I stopped by the Schooner Bar to get some Coca-Cola and Ginger Ale for the cabin. and retired early. It was a nice productive, but hot day in Cozumel. I’m really enjoying my classmates.
Day Six — Friday— Costa Maya, Mexico  
Smooth seas overnight and I slept well. I woke too early but updated this blog and reviewed the early news. We were soon docked at Costa Maya but with a 12:30 back-on-board time I’m staying on board the ship. I have a nice view from my balcony and the water is beautiful today but not enough port time for the effort to even get to nearby Mahahual. I had another Banana breakfast and did some work online this morning. At noon I went to the MDR for lunch, I had two entrees, a Spicy Chicken Sandwich and the Steak Frites. For dessert a Floating Island (good but not as good as MSC’s). I watched sail away from the balcony and had a lazy afternoon. I went by the Diamond Lounge at about 17:20 and enjoyed a few cocktails, then met all my classmates at the Schooner Bar at 18:20. They all are having a great cruise, a new experience for most of them. I had reservations at Chops Grille, the American steakhouse, for 19:45 with my Snoozemates (photo), It was very nice. I ordered the Colossal Shrimp Cocktail, Jumbo Lump Crab Cake, the Wedge Salad, and the 9 oz Filet Steak with butterflied cut with Baked Potato and Mushrooms. It was a very nice meal with good friends. I did a walkabout the ship and guests were out this evening…all the late-night venues were very busy. I did stop for a final nightcap at the Schooner before heading to the cabin. It was a relaxing and great visiting day on the Allure of the Seas.
Day Seven — Saturday—Sea Day   
Smooth seas overnight but I would have slept very well in any seas last night. I went to the Park Cafe for a Danish and Doughnut...a light breakfast, then went to Dazzles for a Q&A session. The Q&A had cast from Ice Skating, Theater, and the Aqua group and was open to Diamond and above guests. This replaces the ‘back-stage' tours that used to be offered and really is easier and better as it includes information from all the performance areas. I had lunch in the MDR again. I ordered the Iceberg Wedge, Spaghetti Bolognese, BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich w/ Fries & Slaw, and Key Lime Pie for dessert. It was very good. I went to the theater at 13:50 and got great seats about 6 rows back in the center for Momma Mia. The two-and-a-half-hour production show was absolutely fantastic. The singers and dancers were amazing. Do not miss this if you sail on the Allure. After the show, I had cabin time and began packing until 17:00 when I went to the Diamond Lounge. My new D-lounge friends were there and I enjoyed a nice cocktail and visit. At about 18:40 I went to the Champagne & Martini bar for an Elderflower Martini. A last farewell and photo with the Snoozemates before my regular 19:45 dinner with my classmates' group. Tonight I ordered: the Chilled Shrimp Cocktail, Mediterranean Papas Medley (Pita bread, Hummus, Tzatziki, Greek Salad), The Braised Lamb entree, and the Cream Catalana dessert. The head waiter also surprised me with some Hearts of Palm…very nice. Lots of goodbyes after dinner with the group. The Aqua Show was canceled again tonight so I retired to the cabin to finish packing. It was an interesting and emotional final day on The Allure of the Seas.


Smooth seas overnight and I slept well. I was up very early so time to finish packing and shower. We were docked before 7:00 am in Galveston and self-assist started rolling off by 7:20. I have Airport Shuttle so I’m tag #2 which was called at about 8:00. Debark was fair for this large of a ship. Facial Recognition at customs is fantastic. I was on the shuttle by 8:20 and at the airport at 9:00. Unfortunately I don’t board until 2:30 but Wifi is good at HOU.  Flight went very well, the girls picked me up at TPA and I was home at the Villa at about 19:15 local time.


I had cabin 12664 a balcony on the port side just off the aft atrium. Features: Two Wardrobes, Vanity with drawers, small Refrigerator, Keypad safe, Couch, Queen Bed, Nightstands, Chair at vanity, Chairs & small table on the balcony, Standard enclosed shower, and HD TV.

Highlights of the Cruise

Of course, sailing with my Classmates was one of the best Highlights I have ever had in 201 cruises. It’s been 54 years since graduation and it seemed like yesterday as far as friendship and camaraderie were concerned. Many were new to cruising and a few were old salts, but all seemed to have a wonderful time and experience. I hope we have time to do it again in the future. 

Personal Observations
The new Terminal is amazing.  Very fluid in guest control.
I thought the food overall was very good…much better than recently sailed MSC and Carnival.  
Royal continues to have the best Loyalty Program…by far.
Embarkation and Debarkation went very well for this large of a ship.



Sunday, April 30, 2023

MSC Splendida Cruise - Adriatic Sea / Agean Sea - Istanbul - April 30-May 6, 2023


MSC Splendida Cruise - Adriatic Sea / Agean Sea / Greece & Turkey - April 30-May 6, 2023
Just the Facts
Ship:  MSC Splendida,  Fantasia class ship launched in 2009 @ 138,000 tons.
Ports: Trieste, Italy - Katakolon Greece - Pireus Greece - Kusadasi, Turkey, Istanbul, Turkey

An immediate follow-up (B2B) of our long adventure cruise with five more days on the MSC Splendida.  Other than Trieste, all familiar ports for us. I am sailing with the Dear Wife (DW). This is my 3rd cruise on the Splendida, and I have now sailed all four ships in the MSC Fantasia class.  This is my 18th cruise on MSC, and my 200th total cruise overall. 

Day One -- Sunday, April 30. — Trieste, Italy.
We were up early to finish packing as we change cabins today for our new cruise. We went to Guest Services to get our new Cabin key cards before our excursion. It took a while but we finally received them and tried to exit as soon as possible for our early excursion meet time. We took a shortcut to get off and went through Italian customs and were out at our meet point at about 8:00 am, we were late but the second ones there. Our excursion was Day Trip to Ljubljana. We finally got our 14 guests together, boarded our roomy bus, and were off at about 8:20. As we drove away from the harbor we passed the ruins of the ancient Roman Theater a reminder of who founded the city of Trieste. We passed the most beautiful green hills and mountains as we drove to Serbia, a new country for me. Ljubljana is the capital and was built at the confluence of three rivers. A medieval castle dominates above the town. We were allowed a full four hours to explore on our own…perfect. We began at the main square and the architecture of the old buildings is amazing as are the triple bridges over the river. Dragons are the theme of the city as two statues guard the oldest bridge in town. There are many restaurants along the river walkways and although the Market is closed on Sundays there was a Sunday ‘Flea Market’. The town was so clean, they have a modern underground trash collection system, and they are proud of being very green. The city center is very walkable…and there were many walkers with many taking their dogs. We had a nice hearty lunch and drinks at Restavracija Paninoteka. It was a bit cool so we sat inside in a nice window seat and view. I ordered the Slovenian Plate and two local beers. The DW had a Hugo Spritz and ordered Potato Fries with fresh thyme seasoning. It was very good. We continued our walk and then met our bus at 14:30 for the return to the port. We were back at about 16:00 so we walked over to Piazza Unità d'Italia, the main square in Trieste, one of the largest and unique in Italy. It had amazing administrative buildings and others including a Harrys, of the famous Harry’s Bar franchise. Lots of people out on a Sunday afternoon, we walked a bit on the pedestrian walkways but soon reversed course for the return to the ship. We did the 2nd highest number of steps today (after Petra). Having our new card made returning to the ship very easy. We were anxious to get to the new cabin and when opened the door and saw all of our bags we were relieved. Love the new cabin with a bathtub and a much better balcony view. We relaxed and then went for a slice of pizza as we knew we would not be going anywhere on the ship nor dinner in the MDR. I then had a nice hot bath and retired early. It was a great excursion day in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Day Two -- Monday, May 1st — at Sea 
Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well. We turned our time one hour forward to Greek time overnight. I was up early and worked on my Blog and posting photos online. I went solo to the MDR for breakfast ordering the Eggs Benedict. The Australians are noticeably gone…very few English speakers are remaining on board. We are settling into our new cabin, we have the same great cabin steward Suadnyana Komang (Indonesia) so the DW still has acartohygieiophobia. At noon we went to the La Reggia Dining Room for lunch. I had the New Orleans Salad, Legume Soup, Turkey escalope, and a Sour Cherry Sundae for dessert. It was good, but service was slow which has been typical. We did a walk about the ship... visit to Excursions Desk to get credit for a canceled excursion at Kusadasi, made reservations for the steakhouse, and bought perfume at the big sale (we were tipped on the last cruise to wait until today to purchase) at the Perfumery. We were able to stream some live American TV this afternoon, so the early morning shows. We had Butcher's Cut Steakhouse reservations for 19:00 this evening as this is the only port free day this cruise. We ordered similar to just last week: NY Strip steak, Filet Mignon steak, Hearts of Palm, a very nice Green Salad, Baked Potato, Brussel Sprouts, and one large Cookie to share for dessert. We retired soon after dinner. It was a good day for food and rest on this only sea day on this cruise.
Day Three -- Tuesday, May 2nd -- Katakolon, Greece 
Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well and late. We had been docked a while when I woke at about 8:45. It is overcast with a poor weather forecast (the same as the last cruise here) so we took our time getting around this morning. We went up to the buffet for a light breakfast, they served real bacon but it was undercooked. We went ashore at about 11:00 and walked to the seaside shops and cafes. We stopped at Cafe Del Mar sitting inside by the door with a view and breeze. I brought my laptop as I suspected I’d have an online workday, and the WiFi was very good. During the course of the day, we had Coca-cola, Mythos beer, Pita Bread, Tzatziki, and Water at €14.5 ... a deal. The DW did some great shopping too…rainy day deals. We began back at about 13:30 quickly walking in a light mist. We were back in the cabin by 14:00 and sat on the balcony enjoying the Macaroons and Prosecco that were delivered while watching the high winds pound the port. We were two hours past departure when they made an announcement that we might be stuck there for a while. They have had a tug on the aft holding us in place all day. At 18:30 we went to dinner in the La Reggia Dining Room, a new table for us this cruise. I ordered: Williams Salad, Casarecce (pasta) with Seafood Ragout, Oven-roasted Veal Leg Goccia d’Oro, and Arroz con Leche for dessert. DW had the same Salad and Risotto Primavera the best vegetarian dish so far. Very pleased with the dinner and service. We were still docked when we retired at 21:00, but soon got away ten minutes later with tug boats in reserve. It was rough sailing for a bit. I worked on my Blog and looked at the map of Athen for tomorrow. It was a fair windy day in Katakolon today.

Day Four -- Wednesday, May 3rd -- Piraeus, Greece    
Rolling seas overnight and I slept well. I woke at about 1:30 am to watch/stream some Oklahoma softball, they won and are 46-1 for the season. Then slept until 8:30 and guess what? Where not in Piraeus…they could not make up that almost 6-hour delay. We’re considering staying on board anyway as rain for Athens is in the forecast. We have a nice private excursion for Kusadasi so want to be on time for Thursday. I went to the La Reggia Dining Room for lunch at about 13:15 just before they closed. I had a nice lunch, ordering the Rural Salad, the Fregola Sarda pasta, the Saltimbocca Roman-style entree (pork escalopes), and the Peach Melba Sundae (2). It was very good. Before I finished dessert they began debarking was a mess for tours as they all left at the same time since we were so late into port. We decided to sit this one out as we were just here a few days ago. While most guests were off the ship I had a Jacuzzi all to myself for an hour on the pool deck. It was nice. I had my own party on the balcony (photo) with the Greek beer I had purchased here last week. I did make a beer run to the terminal for Coca-cola, Lay’s Potato Chips, more beer, and some candy. It was fun watching guests arriving back and the view of the Aegean Sea. Just as they left this afternoon, most guests arrived back at the same time, a huge line from 19:00 to 19:45 extending into the parking area. I knew most would be going direct to the buffet so I went up to get light snacks for us and we settled into the cabin for the evening. We have done so much walking this cruise that the day off was good for us. Again a great early excursion for our final day so we retired early. It was another great day on the MSC Splendida.

Day Five -- Thursday, May 4th - Kusidasi Turkey

Smooth seas overnight as we sailed east to Turkey. I slept well but woke early, we had some FaceTime on the computer with DD and Grandaughter. We arrived in port just after the 7:00 am scheduled arrival, but being so far behind due to the weather very pleased. We picked up some breakfast snacks to eat in the cabin as we prepared for our excursion. We were off before the 8:00 am meet time and as we left the terminal our private guide Kerem was holding a sign with my name…good to see. We had a nice Limo-Van with a driver and the guide sat with us in our compartment. Nice. We had booked a private tour of Ephesus, Ephesus Terrace houses, Basilica of St. John, & Artemis Temple. Following a short drive, we arrive in Efe and the first stop was at the ruins of the Basilica of St. John. Very historic in Christianity as the Apostle Timothy was a Church elder here and the remains of the Apostle John are buried here. Located just below was the site of the Artemis Temple…nothing remaining other than the outline of the site and one large column. We later did see the famous Statue that stood in the Temple. The major stop was next at the restored Ephesus site. We began at
the back entrance so we could walk downhill. The first site inside was the Roman Baths, then the merchant area, and several Temples…amazing to see them again and the guide was great. We then took the tour of the restored Terrace Houses located on the hillside and protected by a large roof. This area is a special ticket and is limited to only a certain number of guests per day. Again great with a guide. The DW enjoyed this portion of the tour to see the old homes of the ancient Romans who lived here. A lot of the original wall paintings and mosaic floors survived. We met the head archeologist of the site who our guide knew…he said the plan was to excavate more of the hillside to expose even more old residential areas. Amazing. We then finished the rest of Ephesus beginning with the most popular Library Building (photo left) built as a monument. Both DW and I realized how similar it was to the Treasury at Petra. As it wasn’t too busy we were allowed to enter and see the facility. We weren’t allowed on my previous visit here. Continuing on we came to the Roman Theater, the largest ancient theater in the world. It is really large and they do contemporary concerts there still yet. In our free time, we choose to visit the Ephesus Archaeological Museum we paid our admission as it wasn’t on the tour, and very glad we did. It contained much of the statuary and items from the various Temples and sites around Ephesus. The major is the Statue of 
The Artemis of Ephesus (photo right)There are approximately 64 thousand pieces exhibited in the Ephesus Museum. We spent most of our allotted 45 minutes there. Amazing. This was a fantastic tour that covered everything we wished to see (we had already been to the Virgin Mary House) in a concise amount of time. Being just the two of us with a good guide we wasted no time as large tours tend to do. We have an early sail away time from the port but we had time to visit our favorite merchant, drink two Efes beers, and eat a Turkish Wrap. Once back on board, I had a hot bath (yes we have a tub) then go to our third Diamond Party in the La Prua Lounge. We again had our favorite Hugo Specials and spoke with the Captain and Hotel Manager. Nice event. We were a little late for dinner due to the party, but had a nice meal and visit with our table mates. I ordered the Greek Salad, Andalusian Gazpacho Soup, Lasagna Bolognese entree, and Turkish Baklava for dessert. Good food and good service. After dinner we retired to pack our bags, we have to have them outside our cabin by midnight. It was an amazing day in Ephesus/Efe and the final full day on the MSC Splendida.

Day Six -- Friday, May 4th - Istanbul, Turkey — Debarkation / Post Cruise 

Smooth seas overnight and I slept well. We received permission to stay in our cabin until our designated departure time for Diamond Guests @ 11:00 am so we had a smooth morning. I went up to the buffet for a light breakfast then began packing our final items for our carry-on (off) bag. We enjoyed two Coca-colas as we docked in Istanbul. Interesting being docked in the Dardanelles between Asia and Europe. So busy with activity…boats and ferries of all sizes as well as sea-faring ships of all types passing in a small area. At our assigned time of 11:00, we proceeded down to deck 4 and debarked the ship. There was a long line for passport control, but we endured only to discover that we needed a Visa to enter Turkey. We made our way to the Visa office and paid $30 each for a Visa, we were told we could bypass the long line upon return and we did so it wasn’t too bad. We collected our bags from the baggage area and proceeded to a scan of bags then out into a taxi area. We shared a nice VIP taxi/van to the Old Town with another couple from Ljubljana by coincidence @ €25 per couple. Fair. We are staying at the (Deluxe) Golden Horn Hotel… an excellent location and a nice room with a balcony. We only had a very short wait and our room on the top floor (6) was available. So from ship cabin to hotel room in just over an hour and a half. Excellent. We unpacked and did the 10+ minute walk to the Grand Bazaar. We enter from gate one, built in 1481 (photo), into the largest under one roof Bazaar in the world. Believe me, it’s huge, and be prepared to be lost, but that’s half the fun. We shopped and saw one possible purchase item and went on to look for food. We ate at Havuzlu Restoran, perhaps the most famous of restaurants inside the Bazaar. I
ordered the Chicken Kabob meal, and it was very good, but the Baclava with creme was the BEST I have ever had. Amazing. We decided to find the stall where we began some negotiations and good luck finding it…the place is like a maze. But we did and ended up buying a very nice and unique Turkish Carpet Bag. It is beautiful and will serve as a carry-on for air travel. Silk, leather, and brass so excellent materials and handwork. We started at €400 and finally agreed on €160. We then returned to the hotel for a wee nap. I did some work with speedy WiFi then at about sundown we decided to go out for dinner. What a great decision that was…just a block away is the beginning of a series of wonderful Sidewalk Cafes and Restaurants. We chose the Sultan Palace. We had a corner table with a heater and a great view down two colorful passageways (photo right). We ordered three Appetizers, Epes Beers, and a warm Wine. Interesting people watching and some great Street Musicians came by as we enjoyed our time on the street. So glad we didn’t fuddy-duddy out of the evening at the hotel...It was fun!! We returned to the hotel and had proper shower volume for the first time in 23 days. We then retired for the evening. It was a great transition day in Istanbul, Turkey.


Day Seven -- Saturday, May 5th - Istanbul, Turkey — Post Cruise 

We slept well overnight but woke early (5:00) with morning prayers. We got around about 8:00. Weather forecast is a rainy morning but clearing in the afternoon. We will make plans accordingly. We had breakfast, nothing special, other than the great view of the Blue Mosque. We walked down to the Haifa Sofia, but already very long lines so we visited the nearby Sultan Ahmet Tomb. Then we visited the Basilica Cistern a huge underground Roman water source held up with 336 marble columns covering 9,800 sq. meters. This is only one of many Roman cisterns in the area. We then walked towards the Bazaar and took a Coca-cola break at a corner cafe. We later spotted a Hakkı Zade Hafiz Mustafa 1864 pastry shop and purchased gifts for the family back home. This is the premier pastry shop in Istanbul with several locations. We then decided to walk back to the hotel to drop off the purchases. I had some internet time while the DW watched the Coronation of King Charles III on Turkish television. We later walked over to the Bazaar, only 12 minutes from the hotel, and explored new areas. I had a nice Chicken Wrap too. We bought some smaller items at the Bazaar then left to go back to Mustafa 1864 for pastries for ourselves and a Turkish Tea. As a tourist, just assume that any local that approaches you to help with directions or anything at all… really just wants to sell you a carpet. We were back at the hotel before 17:00 and made arrangements for Airport Shuttle at 3:30 am. We enjoyed our time at the Sultan Palace so much that we returned again tonight. We ordered entrees tonight, special dishes cooked in Clay Pots. DW ordered a vegetarian and I ordered a mixed grill of Beef, Chicken, and Lamb combination. It’s kind of a special show when they break the pots and pour the entree into waiting heated cast iron plates. It was great. They receive an ovation from all when they presented ours. And the food was great…so glad we returned. The entertainers did a special song for the DW as well…another fun evening. We were back at the hotel by 21:30 as we have an early day tomorrow. It was a very nice day in Istanbul.
Day Eight or Day 27 overall -- Sunday, May 6th - Istanbul, Turkey — Travel Day  
We woke by 3:00 am to finish packing and await our 3:30 shuttle (€49). It’s about an hour to the airport, but that early we beat that time. The Airport is huge and busy even at 5:00 am. We checked three bags to Tampa and had two carry-ons and + a large purse. The first Lufthansa flight was to Frankfort Germany. The German airport security was the most detailed we have experienced in many years (Belgium after the bombing was worse). The three-hour flight to Frankfort was fine, then the same security before boarding our 10-hour flight home. We were in the air at about noon local time. We had bulkhead seats and lots of children nearby but it went fairly well…I watched four movies. We landed in Tampa just after 4:00 pm, we went through Customs and retrieved our bags, and were on the curb only a few minutes before the DD picked us up. Home to the Florida Villa by 5:30 local time.

Personal HIGHLIGHTS of the Cruise and Istanbul
Our day in Efe and Ephesus with a private guide and driver
Our day in Ljubljana
Our impromptu Istanbul street parties on Friday & Saturday nights
The old Roman Basilica Cistern
Our final Diamond Party on the ship

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

MSC Splendida - Red Sea/Suez/Mediterraian Cruise - April 12, 2023


MSC Splendida - Red Sea / Suez Canal / Mediterranean Cruise  
Just the Facts
Ship:  MSC Splendida,  Fantasia class ship launched in 2009 @ 138,000 tons.
Ports: Jeddah Saudi Arabia, Yanbu SA, Sokhna Egypt, Safaga Egypt, Aquaba Jodan, Suez Canal, Santorini Greece, Mykonos Greece, Piraeus Greece, Katakolon Greece, Kotor Montenegro, Bari Italy, Trieste, Italy.

Another long adventure cruise with a lot of new ports for me. This cruise over 18 days will be in two segments so count as two cruises (MSC thing, but also get two Diamond parties, etc.). Also sailing the following cruise on 4/30, but will review it separately. I am sailing with my Dear Wife (DW). This is my first cruise on the MSC Splendida, but I have sailed the other three ships in the MSC Fantasia class. My 16th & 17th cruises on MSC, and my 198th & 199th total cruises overall.

Travel Days - Monday/Tuesday, April 10 & 11th 

We arrived at our new (to us) local airport in Tampa (photo left) for early international check-in and had time for a nice Chick-fil-A meal before our Monday 4:00 pm flight to Chicago ORD. At ORD went to the Qatar Air terminal for our 13-hour flight to Doha Qatar. We had very nice bulkhead seats for the long flight with a lot of legroom. We endured the long flight. We landed in Qatar (a new county for me) and found our way to our final flight to Jeddah. The flight was full of Pilgrims making their way to Mecca during Ramadan. Very interesting in itself. We finally landed in Jeddah at about 9:10 pm. local time. Lots of formality arriving in Saudi Arabia. We first acquired our SA Travel Visas from a kiosk ($120 per person) then went through primary Immigration. Then a carry-on baggage check and another immigration check to confirm we went through the primary. Even with these delays, we arrived at baggage claim before our bags arrived, but they did arrive just as we began looking so no need to panic. We were picked to get a random Customs query as we entered the main terminal area but they scanned our large backs quickly and we were on our way. We ordered an Uber and within 8 minutes were picked up in the designated Uber waiting area ($20 to hotel). There were plenty of local Saudis assisting the process from the beginning. It was needed as it was 22 hours and we were exhausted. Actual traffic on the roads as it gets busy after sundown during Ramadan. We arrived at the Crown Plaza Hotel at about 11:00 pm and had a very nice room with a Red Sea view. 

Wednesday, April 12th —  Jeddah, Saudi Arabia / Embarkation Day
We slept very well and enjoyed the room amenities, WiFi, and spacious room. Dining rooms are closed so food and drinks are only through room service during Ramadan. I did a short walkabout to the Corniche, but nothing was open nor was the famous fountain running. We arranged for a hotel shuttle to the ship at noon check-out. It’s a dry, dusty, and hot day so looking forward to shipboard amenities and food. Check-in by MSC was smooth and we checked all of our bags, but the Saudi Customs was as rigorous as the airport. Leaving the country is just as difficult as arriving…inspection for a proper Visa, including fingerprinting (as done yesterday) and a final check for the stamp on the passport. Really not too bad overall…we were at the buffet by 1:00ish. After a nice Salad and Pasta, we were soon at our cabin. We oriented ourselves with the cabin and had a wee nap as we waited for our luggage. The bags arrived and we were soon unpacked in our balcony cabin, our home for the next 18 days. At 6:30 we went to Muster Drill in the Strand Theater. The Safety drill was instructions but they did walk us to our actual muster meeting location.  We then went to dinner in the La Reggia Dining Room. It’s one of the smaller venues that I prefer over the larger MDR as it is more pleasant IMHO (no children for one reason). I ordered the Hearthy Tuscan Soup, Mezzah Plater (one of the local choices with hummus, baba ghanoush, stuffed vine leaves), Seafood Linguini, and Lamb Chops with potatoes & asparagus. DW had a Greek Salad and Tomato Petals and Mozzarella Fiordilatte. I had the Arroz con Leches for dessert. All the food, bread, and service were very good. We went straight to the Theater after dinner for the Rock & Roll feature production show (photo). The two featured singers as well as the dancers were great. Very entertaining. We returned to the cabin and finished setting up and awaited sail away so we could visit some of the onboard shops for the embark day discount. Those plans became moot as the port was closed overnight due to high winds.  We will hopefully be on our way in the morning.  It was an easy and entertaining embarkation day on the MSC Spendida.
Thursday, April 13th — Jeddah to Yanbu,  Saudi Arabia 

A dead calm as we remained in Jeddah port and calm once we left @ 5:30 am and entered the Red Sea. We slept well. DW ordered room service as she prefers and I went to the Dining Room for breakfast. No pork available, I expected that onshore but not on the ship. A supply problem I assume. The Turkey Bacon and Beef Sausage leave a lot to be desired. MDR Service was excellent and fast, my Fruit Plate was very good and Hot Milk was readily available. A relaxing morning on the ship and we looked at the shops as we sail to Yanbu. Following a wee nap, we had Pizza for lunch, it was great! We arrived at Yanbu at about 3:30 and we went down to our excursion meet at about 4:00, Our excursion today was Yanbu, The City of Two Souls. We drove away from the port in a brand new (never used) bus about half an hour through the desert to the ruins of Yanbu Al Nakhal and the Al Jabriyah Water Spring. We viewed old architecture approximately 200 years old of desert mud dwellings on top of ancient dwellings. They overlooked an Oasis consisting of a small beautiful green valley with a spring and clear running water. The village was abandoned 100 years ago so preserved as a photo in time. Interesting. We did see about a dozen camels in the wild on the way, DW spotted them and I don’t think anyone else on the bus noticed…there was a bit of a sandstorm at the time. After the tour, we returned to Yanbu Al Balad and visited a restored area near the ship (photo of entry). There was a restored Night Market that was active. Also many food stalls and crafts in this new Heritage area. The tour ended here and as it was now evening but we stayed to enjoy the nice breeze off the water and had some interesting food from vendors, I still had Saudi currency so we decided to hit the Market again and made some purchases before walking back to the ship. After refreshing we went to the La Prua Lounge for two Ginger Ales. Because of the ship's late arrival and late departure, no alcohol was served in port today. Put a damper on the White Party scheduled late tonight. We won’t sail until 2:00 am. It was an interesting day in Yanbu and on the MSC Spendida.

Friday, April 14. — Sea Day in the Red Sea 

Windy but calm seas overnight and I slept well. I was up early and confirmed ship time as we set back our clocks one hour during the night moving from Arabian time to Eastern European time for Egypt on Saturday. We both went to the La Reggia Dining Room for early breakfast at about 8:00 am. It was busy, I suspect many had failed to change their time, but we had a very nice table with a sea view to ourselves. We each ordered Fruit, Omelettes, and Hash browns, I also ordered Pancakes in lieu of meats. We have to attend a face to face with Egyptian Customs today so decided to go early, ahead of our designated (by deck) time hoping for a possible time change advantage; however, when we arrived the line went from the entry doors of the theater to the stage. It went fairly quickly with only one official stamping passport until a second replaced him. We had a good view of the show that ensued, let's say a lot of arm-waving between customs officials, crew officers, and a few guests to boot…in several languages. The official closed his book and left the room. We had worked our way almost to the stage so waited it out…eventually two officials came back and the guests cheered to see them return. The line soon began to move quickly and we received our ‘quick entry visa stamps’. Entertaining for a sea day. Passing a now-long line extending to the casino we then went to the shops for goodies before returning to our cabin. We took a wee nap until a knock on the door…we received a bottle of Champagne, Chocolate, and Macaroons. Thank you, MSC. We attended the Diamond Guest Reception @ 6:00 pm in the La Prua Lounge. It was very nice with a choice of complimentary drinks. A very international group of guests attended. It was a classy event, they had quality entertainment, lots of servers, and the Captain did a toast. They went off the menu and prepared Hugo Spritzers (photo) for the DW and me as that is our MSC favorite. Thanks again MSC. Following we went straight to dinner. I ordered the Mezza Plater, Moroccan Harira Soup, Lobster Bisque, the Grilled Tournedos entree, and Coconut Tapioca Pudding for dessert. It was very good. We retired after dinner as we have a long excursion on Saturday with a 6:00 am meeting time. It was a nice relaxing day on the MSC Splendida.

Saturday, April 15 — Sokhna Port for Cairo, Egypt 

Smooth seas overnight, but did not sleep well, the anticipation of the BIG day and the fact we were up at 4:30 to prepare. I had breakfast at 5:15 am and the buffet was packed as most everyone had early excursions to the Pyramids. Meet time was 6:00 am just about the time we docked. First buses were called at 6:15 am, all were doing the Pyramids + one other location. We were on bus 29 and called a bit later. We had to go through Egyptian Customs first but it was easy compared to Saudi Arabia. Our bus had all passengers by 7:15 and we were soon on our way. Our excursion was MSC's GIZAH & SAKKARA. After an hour + drive to Cario and crossing the Nile River, our first stop was Saqqara Complex. Saqqara contains the oldest complete stone building complex known in history, the Pyramid of Djoser, built during the Third Dynasty. Another sixteen Egyptian kings built pyramids at Saqqara, which are now in various states of preservation. The scope of the site was a very pleasant surprise to me and we actually got to enter a tomb, It was amazing. y. Another sixteen Egyptian kings built pyramids at Saqqara, which are now in various states of preservation. The scope of the site was a very pleasant surprise to me and we actually got to enter a tomb, It was amazing. Our next stop was the famous Great Pyramid one of the 7th Wonders of the Work. It is quite amazing as well as the 2nd and third primary Pyramids. We visited several locations within the Archeological Park including the Great Sphinx. A bit off-putting the vast number of hustlers at the Pyramid sites but I understand that it has been so for many years. At least the camels add some character. Still, quite an awe-inspiring experience to witness the majesty of seeing them for the first time. We then had a late luncheon buffet at Helnan Dreamland Hotel which was the best food I have enjoyed in years. Lots of Chefs and servers to assist. The Salad area was amazing with everything so fresh and appealing. The entrees included Beef, Meatballs, and Fish with other choices such as Scalloped Potatoes, Fresh Breads, and fresh Vegetables. The desserts were also very good. Great sites and great food. Our final stop was at Merit Center El Bazaar and Merit Papyrus House. I did see how they make papyrus and we did buy an Egyptian art print on papyrus. We returned to the ship at about 6:45 pm. We retired early as it was a fantastic but tiring day in Cairo.

Sunday, April 16  —  Sofaga and Luxor Egypt 
We were up early again preparing for a private overnight adventure excursion to Luxor.  I went up to the Buffet for breakfast and returned with items for the DW.  We docked at 8:00 and by 8:30 we on the dock searching for our excursion.  We found our Egypt Tours mini bus driver Ali and eventually 9 other adventurous guests and headed out for our 4-hour drive to Luxor.  We were all friends by the time we arrived and met our Guide Mohmoud Nour in Luxor.  Luxor is located on the Nile river and greener than most cities we have seen in Egypt. We went strait away to the Karnak Temple complex.  We knew immediately that our guide was special: an expert Egyptologist and very considerate to the needs of the group.  Karnak Temple dates from around 2055 BC to around 100 AD. Approximately thirty pharaohs contributed to the buildings, enabling it to reach a size, complexity, and diversity not seen elsewhere. It was amazing, exactly what a tourist wants to see when visiting an Egyptian ruin. Mahmoud promised authentic Egyptian food and he delivered we ate lunch in a local restaurant and we were the only tourist there. No menus in English so I can’t give specifics but basically a choice of several options of Beef, Chicken, Fish with extras.  I had a mixed grill and lentil soup.  They
serve Ayesh Baladi (Native Bread) with Hummas, Pickled Relishes, Tomato Relish in common.  Three of our eleven in group were Vegetarians so DW had company.  After lunch we were taken to our hotel, the Pavillon a special annex (for groups) of the famous Winter Palace Hotel.  Beautiful grounds with perfectly trimmed grass, flowers, palms, and lush fragrant landscaping.  Our room was wonderful with a balcony overlooking the gardens.  I had a quick dip in the pool to refresh.  We met the group at 6:00 pm for an evening visit to Luxor Temple, just blocks away.  Arriving at Sundown we did the exterior and Avenue of Sphinxes first as the Temple became illuminated by the special lighting.  The Luxor Temple itself looks magnificent highlighted by the lights.  To me perhaps giving an impression of how magnificent it looked in their ancient days when painted and maintained. After passing the Statues of Ramesses II at the entrance we visited the various interior chambers.
Parts of the temple were built by Amenhotep III, Tutankhamun, Ramesses II, and Alexander the Great. It was a wonderful experience, to me better than the Pyramids of Giza.  We returned to the hotel at about 8:30 and DW and I walked the gardens and interior of the Winter Palace Hotel a historic British colonial-era luxury resort hotel opened in 1907.  We love this style of hotel.  Notable residents include Agatha Christie wrote Death on the Nile while staying at the hotel and George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, a collector of Egyptian antiquities who financed archaeologist and Egyptologist Howard Carter's discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922.  We had visited Lord Carnarvon’s home Highclere Castle in England and saw his collection a few years ago.  (BTW-Highclere is better known to many as the home of the popular TV/Movies Downton Abbey).  We then retired after such a long, busy, and exciting day.

Monday, April 17  —  Luxor,  Egypt 
We were up at 4:00 am to pack and prepare for our early morning Balloon Ride. We checked out, picked up our Breakfast Box. and met our balloon driver at 5:50 am. We took a water taxi across the Nile River and were picked up by a new driver who took us to our balloon company (there are several that launch). The five in our group joined others to make up the 28 max capacity of our basket. We soon launched with almost two dozen other balloons, spectacular in itself, but the views were fantastic. We went over amazing Temples, Monuments, and Tombs as well as views of the Nile Valley. It was amazing. Flight time was about 30+ minutes and landing was fine. What a place for one's first balloon ride. The vans followed the balloon and we were picked up straight away and dropped at the Nile River landing meeting our tour group, driver, and guide…all before 7:30 am. We went direct to the Valley of the Kings our primary stop of the day. It was the principal burial place of the major royal figures of the Egyptian New Kingdom, as well as many privileged
nobles. The staircases and passageways of the 
Royal Tombs are elaborately decorated with scenes from Egyptian mythology and give clues as to the beliefs and funerary practices of the period. Including recent discoveries, there are 63 known tombs. We visited five including Tutankhamun and 3 from the Ramesses dynasty. They were breathtaking, I tried to find the funerary boat in each. We then began the next stops on the west bank of the Nile. Since we began early in the day but it was getting hot reaching 98° DW and I (and others in the group) took it easier the rest of the tour, especially since we had just seen these sites final two sites from the air. These included the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut, Colossi of Memnon, and more. We stopped at an Artesans Market on the West Bank before heading back to the Nile River where we boarded a boat for a trip up the Nile to Banana Island where we had lunch. A large place where again we were the only tourists…so authentic Egyptian food. I had Chicken Shawarma. They served the usual bread, hummus, and relishes…plus bananas. After lunch, we boarded the boat back down the Nile River to the Winter Palace landing. We retrieved our bags, made a WC stop, and met our driver Ali. Here we said farewell to our guide Mohmoud Nour. We were very fortunate to have him. He is an independent with a degree in Egyptology, but a multi-generational local who lived on the west bank, and his family worked on the tombs for years. As a youth, his grandparents lived inside one of the ancient tombs. In reality, it was a member of his family in 1922 that was the water boy who discovered the steps to the tomb when his water-laden donkey stepped into a depression. He then informed Howard Carter the famed discoverer. This is a well-documented occurrence. I recommend him as a guide and he may be the best we have used in our many journeys. The long drive began back to Sofaga and we arrived back just under four hours. I took a quick shower and was able to make it to 6:30 dinner (a little late). I craved some traditional food…I ordered the Asparagus soup, Chateaubriand Beef, and Wildberry Cobbler for dessert. Too tired to do anything other than sleep so retired. It was the end of an exciting and wonderful trip to Luxor.
Tuesday, April 18. — Sea Day in the Red Sea 
Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well. We changed our time forward overnight so back on the original Arabian time for Jordon tomorrow. We relaxed and I updated my Travel Blog this morning, then had breakfast at about 10:00 am in the Bora Bora Buffet on Deck 14. Adequate breakfast but they were running out of food, mugs, catsup, fruit, and more. I think many guests missed the MDR closing time due to the time change as it was very busy. We went to the port lecture on Jordan at 11:00 am. It was good and reminded me to confirm the information on my private tour. Also to have a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, closed-toe shoes, and an optional umbrella. Yesterday my sunglasses broke at the very last site, the earpiece just fell off as was holding them in my hand. Interestingly they were having a 20% off sale on sunglasses today in the shops, but the RayBans similar to mine were $230…no thanks. Luckily I went to the Swim Shop on deck 14 and got a nice pair for $45 (photo: corner mosaic on pool deck). After hearing the lecture it a reconfirmed that there will be a minimum of 3 miles of walking tomorrow. We are already tired and sore from the three connective days of long excursions so today will be a rest-only day. We did sneak up to the buffet for Pizza and I brought back the juiciest plums I have ever tasted. Egyptian I'm sure as they have such great fruit. At 6:00 pm we went for some complementary Captain’s Night cocktails at the La Prua Lounge and then to dinner in the La Reggia Dining Room. All six assigned were there for the first time, but a sea day helps. Tonight I ordered a Mezzah Plater, Herbed Salmon Gravlax, the Grilled Tournedos au Jus entree, and Bread and Butter Pudding for dessert. With another big excursion tomorrow we retired for the evening. It was a relaxing and much-needed sea day on the MSWC Splendida.

Wednesday, April 19 — Acaba,  Jordon

Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well. We were still asleep when we docked in Aqaba at about 6:00 am. Since MSC originally stated that their Petra tours were sold out we have a private tour today @ 9:00 am so began getting ready at about 7:00ish. We soon left the ship and rode the 1st MSC shuttle into town. At the drop-off site, we were inundated by locals who wanted to sell tours or taxi rides. Having been accosted by locals in Egypt we were concerned, people here are much more civilized…a polite no is all that is needed. As we were early we did befriend one who did help (expecting nothing in return). This was our meeting location but the actual bus would be a block away. We took advantage of the nearby Hilton Hotel and did some shopping for a straw hat. I did have Jordanian Dinars. Our late bus (more below) finally arrived and we left at about 10:15 for the almost three-hour drive to Petra. Petra is a famous archaeological site in Jordan's southwestern desert. Dating to around 300 B.C., it was the capital of the Nabatean Kingdom. Accessed via a narrow canyon called Al Siq, it contains tombs and temples carved into pink sandstone cliffs. Its most famous structure is the 45m-high Al Khazneh, a temple with an ornate, Greek-style facade, and known as The Treasury. Not having much actual time at the site we proceeded on the walk into the Archeological area. The initial trail is gravel, then some blacktop, then ancient Roman Road as you get to the famous canyon. It is a beautiful approach once you hit the long narrow canyon and the shade is welcome on this hot day. Walking 1+ mile you reach the most famous Treasury site. It is most impressive and more massive than I visioned in the photos. In lieu of going to other sites beyond we luckily found a table and enjoyed some Coca-cola and the sites. A lot to take in with the local Bedouin, tourists, camels, dogs, donkeys, and more. We returned walking back the same path and to a restaurant for a buffet lunch before boarding the bus back to Aqaba. We arrived at exactly 7:05 pm just after the back-on-board time. Once refreshing ourselves we went up to the buffet for Pizza and then retired early. It was a long and strenuous day. We were very happy to see Petra, but the tour operator was the worst I have ever experienced causing undue stress for most on the tour (I’ll comment on that later). We were very happy once we returned to the MSC Splendida.


Thursday, April 20. — Sea Day to Suez Canal South 

Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well waking early to update my blog. Relaxing, writing, and updating various projects online all morning. Today we sailed from the Gulf of Aqaba to the Red Sea then position the ship just south of the Suez. We are to join a northbound transit of the canal tomorrow morning. At noon we went down to Deck 5 to La Reggia Dining Room for a proper Lunch. We discovered that we had failed to turn back our clocks last night and we were an hour early. We decided to lounge in the Lobby Bar area (photo) and enjoyed a Hugo Spritzer cocktail and wait. We review some Excursions while there. When the MDR opened we sat with some Australians that were on our tour yesterday. I ordered a Madison Salad, and two entrees: Fish & Chips and a Grilled Meat Skewer. They had my favorite MSC dessert a Floating Island (poached egg white, vanilla anglaise, caramel). After lunch, we read and took a long nap. It was refreshing. When we woke we decided to skip the MDR this evening and continued our rest. Four big excursions in five days are not easy. I noted our concerns about yesterday's excursion to Tour-Jordon. Interesting that we went from the best excursion ever to the worst in the same week. By 8:00 pm we were anchored among a huge line of ships, there were ships as far as the eye could see. Hopefully, cruise ships get priority tomorrow when we begin transit of the Suez Canal. I made a late Pizza run and a double surprise…meats on the Pizzas and Plums in the fruit section. I got two slices of Charcol Pizzas with hamburger and one slice of spicy salami. MSC still has the best Pizza at sea by far. It was a relaxing day at sea on the MSC Splendida.

Friday, April 21. — Suez Canal Transit 

Anchored overnight so calm seas. I slept very well and woke at 5:30 am, the sun was bright so good view of the ships, and at 6:00 we began our approach to the canal. Looks like we will be leading the convoy, with a smaller passenger ship following. By 6:30 am we dropped the pilot and made a turn to starboard entering the canal itself. Just happened to be awake and on the correct side of the ship to see the action. Canal itself is rather plain no interesting features as you enter just equipment and several booms in the water. In the 125+ mile length we did get the Laurence of Arabia desert view with desert on each side, Also one major bridge at Ismailia (photo), a ferry crossing, and several settlements on the west side. The east bank had a stone fence with observation points that I assume were built by the Israeli army when they occupied the Sinai for many years following the Six-day War. We had a lot of business on Deck 5 mid-day with Guest Services, Excursion Desk, and then lunch in the La Reggia Dining Room. I ordered a nice Green Salad, the Chicken Wing appetizer, and the entree of Sliced Roast Beef with Mashed Potatoes and Green Beans. DW had a Spinach Crepe. A very nice Wild Berry Sundae for dessert. We have enjoyed the MDR lunches more than the evening meals on the sea days. I had a wee nap and woke about 4:00 pm as we arrived at the end of the Suez Canal and entered the Mediterranean Sea.  At about 5pm we went to the Lobby Bar for a Peroni beer, then to the La Prua Lounge for cocktails. We did attend the Motown Show in the theater featuring the Angelettes. It was a fly-in act used as filler on longer cruises with three campy British gals singing. Not that good yet entertaining in its own way. Afterward, we went up to the Buffet and there was meat including pork everywhere…I assume the cruise line had an agreement while in the Red Sea to somewhat observe Ramadan. I had Pork Chops, Potatoes, and Beets. We then retired for the evening. It was a needed restful day while sailing the Suez Canal.

Saturday, April 22 — Sea Day 

Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well. We changed our clocks forward again so we are now on Eastern European Time for Greece. I woke at about 7:30ish and updated my blog. We had an easy pajama day until noon when we went down to the La Reggia Dining Room for lunch. I ordered the Baby Shrimp & Vegetable Salpicon starter, Pan-seared fillets of Red Mullet, and Fruit Plate, the DW ordered Caprese Salad, Cauliflower Gnocchi, and the Fruit Sundae. We enjoyed the luncheons. it’s much cooler weather in the Mediterranean than in the Red Sea…that is very welcome.  We did a walkabout the ship after lunch…guests were busy on outer decks, casino, dining rooms, playing trivia, spa, bingo, shopping, and many other activities. We had another relaxing afternoon and prepared for the next 6 ports in a row beginning tomorrow. At about 7:00 pm we went to the Bora Bora Buffet for dinner. I had an assortment of many things and yes a lot of meat choices, DW found a Pesto Pasta, one of her favorites. We didn’t go out this evening as we have an early excursion in the morning and a busy week ahead. It was a relaxing day on the MSC Splendida.

Sunday, April 23 — Island of Santorini, Greece 

We woke at 6:00 as we have a 7:00 am excursion meet time in the theater. We were here in the fall and we only did the primary town of Fira so we wanted to see the entire island on this trip. No excursions were released until an hour later, a mixup in tender starting times I heard. At about 8:00ish we got on the first tender to the commercial Athinios Ferry port. Tendering in the Santorini Caldera is a beautiful experience and it’s a lovely sunshine day. Soon we were on tour bus 4 and on our way to our first stop. Oia is Santorini's most picturesque town and has some of the island's best hotels. It's located at the northern tip of the island and is famous for its fabulous views. We had an hour to explore on our own and we walked the long beautiful marble passageways along the cliff edge from one end of the village to the other. We had a wonderful pastry from a Bakery and enjoyed the views. At about 10:45 am, we re-boarded the bus and crossed back across the island to Santo Wines for Snacks and a Wine Tasting. We had a very nice table with a view of the caldera for our one-hour visit (photo above). The final stop was the capital city of Fira, the guide walked us up towards the largest church on the island, Candlemas Holy Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral of Thira. We visited inside and we were on our own the rest of the day. We visited the numerous shops and did a bit of walking. We stopped at Fanari Greek Restaurant which had a great view of the ship, the walking trail down, and the caldera. We enjoyed the Wifi, Beers, Water, fresh Pita bread, Saganaki cheese, and a great Tzatziki. It was very nice. Being next to the trail down the mountain to the port below, we thought about walking but did the fun thing and rode the donkeys down. My knees were grateful. There was a long line for the return tender to the ship but it went fairly well, we were back on board by 4:30 pm. We were tired, we did over 12,000 steps today so we had cabin time and retired early. It was a great day on the Island of Santorini with three different wonderful sea views.

Monday, April 24 — Island of Mykonos, Greece

Smooth seas overnight and we slept well. I watched us sail into port just after 7:00 am. It looks like another perfect weather day too. At about 8:30 I went to the La Reggia Dining Room for breakfast. The entire regular menu is available now and I ordered: Fruit Plate, Eggs Benedict, Potatoes, Bacon (English), Hot Milk, and Danish. It was very good. I then got two private tender tickets from Shore Excursions @ 10€ so I would save some time when we go over to the city of Mykonos. We left the cabin at about 10:30 am and walked to the ferry across the harbor and arrived in town at about 11:00. We walked the familiar and new passageways looking at shops and interesting architecture. We stopped for some Coca-Colas then continued our way to the famous Windmills where we took some photos. We then went to a place on the water we stopped at last October named the Veranda. Here we got a small waterside table on the water with a great view of the windmills (photo). I had two beers and we used the WiFi as well. Very nice. We did some more shopping and site seeing before stopping at Paraportiana located off the water on an old square. It seemed to cater to locals as they had a shared table and made deliveries. We had our big meal here, we ordered Fresh bread with butter and tapenade, Pita bread, Tzatziki, Fava split peas (local hummus style), Saganaki cheese, Local wine, and a large Fix beer. It was very good we enjoyed it very much. Also good Wifi, clean toilets, and good service…we recommend. We were very close to the harbor so took the next tender back to the ship. Overall a very pleasant day with perfect weather. This year as last year we enjoyed Mykonos better than Santorini. Following our tender ride we rested a bit until sail away.  At about 18:00 we went to the La Prua Lounge for cocktails, a Hugo Spritz, and an Elderflower martini. At about 19:10 we went to the Bora Bora for a light dinner, I had Veal from the Carving Station, Spinach, Bread, and a selection of small deserts. We then retired as we have another port tomorrow. It was a fantastic day in Mykonos.
Tuesday, April 25 -- Port of Piraeus for Athens, Greece
Smooth seas overnight and I slept well. At about 7:45 am I went to breakfast in the Bora-Bora Buffet…loving the Bacon and Eggs. Today we have a shuttle bus at 8:45 for a Plaka On Your Own tour. We have seen every site in Athens as we did the deluxe Dimitri tour a few ago; however, we had not been to the Acropolis Museum. That was our mission today. Although the bus gave us too little time we did the entire museum and walked a bit in the Plaka area. I was impressed with the Museum, itself built over ancient ruins. The way the Parthenon is represented with modern materials then used to display the ancient art is amazing i.e.—stainless steel columns in place of the stone. The entire footprint of the Parthenon is represented on the third level of the Acropolis Museum to correspond with the upper level of the Parthenon. Then the surviving ancient art is hung in the proper position. Amazing. After visiting the museum we walked in the Plaka and enjoyed a nice ice creme. The weather is again perfect. We considered staying and taking a taxi back, but we will be back at Piraeus on Wednesday next week. We bought some snacks before returning to the ship. We did get back in time to take advantage of a lunch offer in the Butchers Cut Steakhouse. I had a nice NY Strip steak and DW had a Mac&Cheese. The M&C was not good, the best item by far was the Hearts of Palm Salad. It was wonderful. We had a short nap until we sailed away then updated the blog. At about sundown, we went to the buffet for Pizza…always good. It was a nice day at the Museum and on the MSC Splendida.
Wednesday, April 26 -- Katakolon, Greece 
Smooth seas overnight and we slept well. This is our third visit to this Greek port and we have seen the Olympus site so we are having a casual day. I went to breakfast at the buffet and had my Eggs & Bacon with hot milk. Still enjoying that bacon. At about 10:45 am we walked into the port town. It was cool and a very light rain but we made it to the waterfront where I stayed at Koursaros Coffee shop and enjoyed a Sprite while the DW shopped at the Main Street shops. We found some bargains last visit and she did it again. The weather improved and was nicer as we returned to the ship at about 1:00. We went straight to the La Reggia Dining Room for a proper lunch. I had a New Orleans Salad, Braised Cabbage Rolls, Turkey escalope with lemon, and the Wild Cherry Sundae for dessert. It was very good. We had a nice conversation with Melania the Hotel Director, she endured one of ‘my MSC stories’. Soon after returning to the cabin, the weather cleared so we had a nice 3:00 pm sail away under clear blue skies. I had time for a wee nap before preparing for the 18:00 Diamond Party in the Aft lounge on deck 7. There are 300 Diamonds on board thus the larger lounge. Nice entertainment by the regular aft lounge entertainers and yes they provided Hugo Spritzers to the DW and me. The Captain & Melania came by too. Thanks. We met friends in the Lobby and then went to the theater for the George Michaels show. It was entertaining…some really got into it. Afterward, I purchased an MSC jacket in the Logo Shop, with the special happy hour sale it was less than €20. Deal. We then retired to the cabin. It was a fun day on the MSC Spendida.
 Thursday, April 27 -- Kotor, Montenegro 
Smooth seas overnight and I slept well. We turned our clocks back another hour and woke to a beautiful sunny sky. Hope it continues as we don’t arrive until 11:00 am in Montenegro. We were entering the huge Kotor Bay when I went upstairs to the buffet for Eggs & Bacon. When I returned to the cabin we watched from the balcony as we sailed into the inner Bay and towards Kotor. It’s a beautiful mountainside landscape and seems much like sailing in a fiord. Beautiful. We reached our Mooring station early, by 10:00 am. Our excursion, the Grand Tour of Montenegro, meet time was 10:30, but we went early and have an early bus and they called us for the first guest tender off the boat at 10:20. It was a 20-minute tender to the port and soon the Bus 3 group (English) met next to the pier to begin our excursion. We began with a walking tour of Old Town Kotor. It is an old gated community with buildings dating back to the 8th century and many to the 12th century. There are a great number of monuments of medieval architecture: churches, cathedrals, palaces, and museums. Its beauty is complemented by the multitude of narrow streets, squares,
and markets that are now: boutiques and clothes stores, souvenir shops, photo shops, jewelry shops, book stores, antique shops, many cafés, pizzerias, and more. You could easily spend several hours here exploring. After our walking tour, we boarded a bus to drive the 
Kotor Serpentine a road going up the mountain containing 25 switch-back curves. The scenery and views are spectacular. It was an exciting drive-up. We stopped at a viewpoint where you could see both Bays and the Adriatic Sea. Amazing. Next, we stopped for a snack at a mountainside village, I had a Montenegrin Sandwich (local cheese, fresh bread, and Njeguši prosciutto ham) and the local beer. It was good. We then had a nice drive through the mountains of Lovcen National Park on the way to Budva. Our first stop was the restaurant Porto located direct on the waterfront where we had our meal. They served: Slaw, Montenegro Steak (veal wrapped with Njeguši prosciutto ham, and cheese), Potatoes, and mixed Rice. The slaw was great, the entree was not my cup of tea. It was then just a short walk to the Budva Old Town. This is another walled city…a miniature version of Kotor or Dubrovnik. The small streets and passageways were very nice marble making it easy to walk. The Buddha Citadel is the main feature. Most of the former medieval buildings are now Restaurants, Cafes, and Souvenir Shops. It was a beautiful atmosphere. We had 30+ minutes of free time to explore. We bussed back on a direct route arriving back about 6:30 pm. A long line for the returning tenders but we were soon safely back on board. DW brought Pizza down to the cabin for a late snack and we ate on the balcony enjoying Kotor Bay. It was our 5th really monumental excursion on this special trip…and Kotor is a port I’ve really been wanting to visit. Another great day.
Friday, April 28 -- Bari, Italy 
Smooth sailing across the Adriatic Sea to Bari. We arrived by 8:00 am and we have no excursions planned other than just getting off and seeing the city. I had breakfast in the MDR, ordering Fruit Plate and Eggs Benedict, it was good. At about 9:30 we made our way down to the pier and the shuttle bus into Bari. We were dropped at the Teatro Petruzzelli the ornate 1904 Opera House between Old Town and New Town Bari. Our first stop was Mcdonalds', a great start as I used the WiFi to get a good City Map on the iPhone, used the toilet and had a Coca-cola. We then headed to Old Town with the goal of visiting Basilica San Nicola a pilgrimage site for Eastern Europe Roman Catholics & Orthodox Christians, built 1087–1197. I was completely amazed by the Medieval era passageways of the old town. We had just visited the old town areas of Koto and Budva that have been restored and now have modern shops, but we were experiencing real-time Italian families living in these narrow extensive passageways of small neighborhoods and piazzas. Beautifully maintained and clean with most buildings being restored but within the medieval infrastructure. A few were touristy near the Cathedral, but most were just everyday life of residents, businesses, cafes, and restaurants. The Basilica was amazing and includes the tomb of Saint Nicholas one of the most notable Saints in early Christian churches (yes origin of Santa Claus) and especially revered in Eastern European Orthodox Churches. I’ve enjoyed reading
about the Patron Saint of many including Sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, brewers, pawnbrokers, unmarried people, and students. We then made our way to the 
Museo Archeologico di Santa Scolastica just a few passageways north of the Basilica. This was one of the most amazing Museums I have visited. Comparable to the Acropolis Museum in Athens. It was built in the old 16th-century ruins of a Monastery and adjacent original Bastion or Sea Gate into the original Bari. It has just opened after extensive restoration. The archaeological history takes the visitor on a journey back in time, from the 19th century, through the Middle Ages, to Protohistory, into the foundations of the building. The site itself dates to the Bronze Age. Much of the building is on pillars (as in Athens) to preserve the sites below. The Bastion has a longer history explained in detail. Also home to rare collections of early Greek and Italian artifacts beautifully displayed (photo above). A beautiful venue, presentation, and facilities, and free. After this visit, we walked back through Old Town to another primary church the Basilica Cattedrale Metropolitana Primaziale San Sabino, a very large 13th-century Romanesque church with a subterranean crypt also containing ancient relics. Not as ornate as San Nicola, but perhaps larger overall. From here we head back towards the new town and look for a restaurant for lunch. Many choices along the wide modern Boulevard and we choose one by the menu: Alterno. We leisurely dined outside on the sidewalk with a small park & activities of the new town. I had Pasta with Tomato sauce, sausage, and mushrooms, DW a selection of local cheeses. It was now about 14:30 so we walked back towards the original shuttle location stopping for some wonderful gelato along the way. I really enjoyed our walk in Bari without being rushed by a tour guide. Loved the architecture of the old town and the perfect weather. We were back in our cabin by 4:00 pm.  We relaxed and watched sail away from Bari then up to the buffet to eat and watch the sun set,  We retired after dinner.  It was a wonderful day visiting the port city of Bari, Italy.
Saturday, April 29, 2023  --  Sea Day 
Smooth seas overnight and I slept well. I woke early and updated my blog then we both went up to the Bora-Bora buffet for breakfast. The proper English bacon is gone, they are passing off a thin sliced fried pork shoulder as bacon and it is terrible. I’m off hot milk too as I’ve had a sensitive stomach of late…neither of my breakfast favorites. I did have fruit and fried eggs, they have had fresh fried eggs readily available all cruise. We went to the watch shop and had help with a pin that fell from my watch band in Kotor. Amazingly the eagle-eyed DW found the pin when my watch fell onto the cobblestone street of the old town. The weather was partly cloudy and cooler but guests are still on deck. This will be a final chance for casino, shopping, and activities for the majority that will debark tomorrow. We finally were able to stream some American television so watched Fox & Friends, of course, we were 6 hours later. The only English TV we have had for the past 6 days has been a Turkish channel that broadcasts in English (smart of them) so I know what’s happening in Turkey. We had a lazy day until we went to the Butchers Cut Steakhouse at about 7:00 pm. (photo of entry).  They knew we weren’t that pleased with our previous visit so they were prepared for us. We had a nice table and great service as we did prior, but the food was much improved. Between us, we ordered: a NY Sirloin steak and a Filet Mignon steak. the Burrata Cheese & Beets, a Hearts of Palm Salad (without the Raspberry Sauce) with thick Balsamic dressing, two Baked Potatoes, Creamed Spinach, and Breads. For dessert: Lava Cake with ice creme & a warm Peanut Butter Cookie with ice creme, It was all very good and very filling. After dinner, we packed as we change cabins tomorrow as well as have a very early excursion. It was a pleasant final day for this cruise

Personal HIGHLIGHTS of the Cruises
Luxor excursion, Balloon ride and Overnight stay
Great Pyramids of Egypt
Montenegro Tour
Our day in Bari
Greece: The Islands & Atheneum Museum
Suez Canal passage

Observations about the MSC Splendida and cruise
Obviously the many unique ports we visited
Most stable ship I have ever sailed in high seas - stabilizers worked well
Hot milk is readily available.
Staff and Crew much nicer than the old MSC

No kleenex or tissues
Very protective of the Music Rolls (toilet paper)
Very little shower pressure in our cabin (unsure about other areas)
No English language TV stations.  Not even BBC but a couple of days of CNBC
Sailing during Ramadan…too many restrictions